The introduction to N.K. Jemisin’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?, holds a truth bomb that I had somehow evaded until that moment. Jemisin explains how she began writing short stories in general and speculative fiction in particular. Her words solidified for me not only the reason that I have been drawn to writing Science Fiction as a woman, but suddenly made me realize how bloody important Science Fiction is to all marginalized people, and how grateful I am to be writing today rather than 20, 30, 50, or 100 years ago.
February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seem like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read this excerpt from Jemisin’s introduction, I think you’ll understand why I have chosen to do this.
“In an attempt to resolve frustration with the state of my life, I finally [in 2002] decided to see whether my lifelong writing hobby could be turned into a side hustle worth maybe a few hundred dollars. If I could make that much (or even just one hundred a year!), I might be able to cover some of my utility bills or something. Then I could get out of debt in twelve or thirteen years, instead of fifteen.
I wasn’t expecting more than that, for reasons beyond pessimism. At the time, it was clear that the speculative genres had stagnated to a dangerous degree. Science fiction claimed to be the fiction of the future, but it still mostly celebrated the faces and voices and stories of the past. In a few more years there would come the Slush-bomb, an attempt by women writers to improve one of the most sexist bastions among the Big Three; the Great Cultural Appropriation Debates of DOOM; and Racefail, a thousand-blog storm of fannish protest against institutional and individual racism within the genre. These things collectively would open a bit more room within the genre for people who weren’t cishet white guys—just in time for the release of my first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But back in 2002 there was none of that. In 2002, I knew that as a black woman drawn to science fiction and fantasy, I had almost no chance of getting my work published, noticed by reviewers, or accepted by a readership that seemed to want nothing more than endless variations on medieval Europe and American colonization…
… How Long ‘til Black Future Month takes its name from an essay that I wrote in 2013… It’s a shameless paean to an Afrofuturist icon, the artist Janelle Monáe, but it’s also a meditation on how hard it’s been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman. How much I’ve had to fight my own internalized racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifyin it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and being spinning the futures I want to see.”
So this month I’m going to dedicate my posts to a handful of my favourite Black science fiction writers. These lists will by no means be exhaustive. I first made a concerted effort to read more Black SF writers back in 2017 when I discovered that October is Black Speculative Fiction Month (how cool is that?) and I have been thrilled with all the new authors I’ve found since swerving off the path beaten path by decades of exploration of “classics” and “the Canon.” However, there is a world of wonderful writers out there who deserve recognition. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too!
(Interestingly, I also wrote about my love of Janelle Monáe on this blog. You can check that article out HERE.)
So, without further ado. Let’s meet N.K. Jemisin, the first of my favourite Black SF&F writers, and someone I think all SF fans should add to their TBR piles right now!
N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has won the Nebula and Locus Awards, and she is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The first book in her current Great Cities trilogy, THE CITY WE BECAME, is a New York Times bestseller. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She’s been an instructor for Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Among other critical work, she was formerly the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer at the New York Times. In her spare time she’s a gamer and gardener, responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his destructive sidekick, the Marvelous Master Magpie.
Jemisin wrote an essay called “How Long ’til Black Future Month,” which does not appear in the short story collection, but which you can read for free on her website by clicking THIS LINK.
The Inheritance Trilogy
After her mother’s mysterious death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky in order to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in the first book in this award-winning fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.
With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably together.
The Broken Kingdoms (2010)
A man with no memory of his past and a struggling, blind street artist will face off against the will of the gods as the secrets of this stranger’s past are revealed in the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the debut novel of NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .
The Kingdom of Gods (2011)
Shahar and the godling Sieh must face off against the terrible magic threatening to consume their world in the incredible conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy, from Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.
Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.
As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom — which even gods fear — is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?
Includes a never before seen story set in the world of the Inheritance Trilogy.
The Dreamblood Duology
The Killing Moon (2012)
Assassin priests, mad kings, and the goddess of death collide in the first book of the Dreamblood Duology by NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin.
The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.
In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers — the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.
But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru — the most famous of the city’s Gatherers — must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill — or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.
The Shadowed Sun (2012)
In the final book of NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, a priestess and an exiled prince must join together to free the city of dreams from imperial rule.
Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up — but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.
Someone must show them the way.
Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams. . . before Gujaareh is lost forever.
Broken Earth series
The Fifth Season (2015)
The start of a new fantasy trilogy by Hugo, Nebula & World Fantasy Award nominated author N.K. Jemisin.
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
The Obelisk Gate (2016)
Continuing the trilogy that began with the award-winning The Fifth Season
This is the way the world ends, for the last time.
The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.
Essun — once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger — has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power – and her choices will break the world.
The Stone Sky (2017)
Humanity will finally be saved or destroyed in the shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed NYT bestselling trilogy that won the Hugo Award three years in a row.
The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.
Great Cities Series
The City We Became (2020)
One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Best Fantasy Books of all time
One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
One of Vanity Fair‘s 15 Best Books of 2020
One of Amazon’s Best Books of 2020
Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.
In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.
In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.
In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.
And they’re not the only ones.
Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.
Short Story Collection
Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories.
“Marvelous and wide-ranging.” — Los Angeles Times“Gorgeous” — NPR Books“Breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold.” — Entertainment Weekly
Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
Have you read any N.K. Jemisin yet? I admit, I haven’t read all of these. I have read the Inheritance trilogy, Book One in the Dreamblood duology, and all of the short stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month?. I’m most looking forward to The City We Became because I love the way Jemisin is able to anthropomorphise Cities until they become characters in their own right. She’s got a couple of great short stories in her collection that got my gears turning. I have read enough of her work that I am confident in recommending you pick up anything of hers that you come across!
Do you have a favourite Black science fiction writer? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers: